David J. C. MacKay

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Sir David John Cameron MacKay FRS FInstP FICE[9][7] (22 April 1967 – 14 April 2016)[1][11] was a British physicist, mathematician, and academic. He was the Regius Professor of Engineering[12] in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge[13] and from 2009 to 2014 was Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).[14] MacKay authored the book Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air.[3][15][16]

Sir David MacKay

David MacKay photographed by David Stern
David John Cameron MacKay

(1967-04-22)22 April 1967[1][2]
Died14 April 2016(2016-04-14) (aged 48)
Cambridge, England
Alma mater
Known for
Ramesh Ghiassi (m. 2011)
Scientific career
ThesisBayesian methods for adaptive models (1992)
Doctoral advisorJohn Hopfield[10]


MacKay was educated at Newcastle High School and represented Britain in the International Physics Olympiad in Yugoslavia in 1985,[17] receiving the first prize for experimental work. He continued his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Natural Sciences (Experimental and theoretical physics) in 1988.[1] He went to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as a Fulbright Scholar, where his supervisor was John Hopfield.[10] He was awarded a PhD in 1992.[18][19][9]

Career and researchEdit

In January 1992 MacKay was appointed the Royal Society Smithson Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge, continuing his cross-disciplinary research in the Cavendish Laboratory, the Department of Physics of the University of Cambridge. In 1995 he was made a University Lecturer in the Cavendish Laboratory. He was promoted in 1999 to a Readership, in 2003 to a Professorship in Natural Philosophy and in 2013 to the post of Regius Professorship of Engineering.[20]

MacKay's contributions[21][22][23][24] in machine learning and information theory include the development of Bayesian methods[25] for neural networks,[26] the rediscovery (with Radford M. Neal) of low-density parity-check codes,[4] and the invention of Dasher,[5] a software application for communication especially popular with those who cannot use a traditional keyboard.[27] He cofounded the knowledge management company Transversal.[28] In 2003, his book Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms[29] was published.

His interests beyond research included the development of effective teaching methods and African development; he taught regularly at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Cape Town from its foundation in 2003 to 2006. In 2008 he completed a book on energy consumption and energy production without fossil fuels called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. MacKay used £10,000 of his own money to publish the book, and the initial print run of 5,000 sold within days.[30] The book received praise from The Economist,[31] The Guardian,[30] and Bill Gates, who called it "one of the best books on energy that has been written."[32][33] Like his textbook on Information theory, MacKay made the book available for free online.[34] In March 2012 he gave a TED talk on renewable energy.[35]

MacKay was appointed to be Chief Scientific Advisor of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom, in September 2009.[14] In October 2014, at the end of his five-year term, he was succeeded by John Loughhead.[36]

Awards and honoursEdit

MacKay was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2009.[7] His certificate of election reads:

In the 2016 New Year Honours, MacKay was appointed a Knight Bachelor "for services to Scientific Advice in Government and Science Outreach", and therefore granted the title sir.[37][38]

Personal lifeEdit

David MacKay was born the fifth child of Donald MacCrimmon MacKay and Valerie MacKay.[1] His elder brother Robert S. MacKay FRS (born in 1956) is Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. David was a vegetarian.[39]

He married Ramesh Ghiassi in 2011.[1] They had a son and a daughter.[11]

Illness and deathEdit

MacKay was diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer (malignant adenocarcinoma) in July 2015,[9] for which he underwent palliative chemotherapy, a process he documented in detail on his public personal blog.[40][41] He died in the afternoon of 14 April 2016.[42][43][44][45] He is survived by his wife and two children.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "MacKAY, Prof. David John Cameron". Who's Who. ukwhoswho.com. 2016 (online Oxford University Press ed.). A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc. (subscription or UK public library membership required) (subscription required)
  2. ^ David MacKay (7 February 2010). "Biography – David J.C. MacKay". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 16 April 2016. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b Mackay, David (2009). Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air. UIT Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-9544529-3-3.
  4. ^ a b MacKay, D. J. C.; Neal, R. M. (1996). "Near Shannon limit performance of low density parity check codes". Electronics Letters. 32 (18): 1645. doi:10.1049/el:19961141.
  5. ^ a b Wills, S. A.; MacKay, D. J. C. (2006). "DASHER—An Efficient Writing System for Brain–Computer Interfaces?". IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering. 14 (2): 244–246. CiteSeerX doi:10.1109/TNSRE.2006.875573. PMID 16792304.
  6. ^ "Ramesh and David". Rameshanddavid.blogspot.com. 15 January 2011. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  7. ^ a b c Anon (2009). "Sir David MacKay FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the royalsociety.org website where:

    “All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” --"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)

  8. ^ a b Anon (2009). "Certificate of election EC/2009/27: MacKay, David John Cameron". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 26 April 2016.
  9. ^ a b c d Longair, Malcolm; Cates, Michael (2017). "Sir David John Cameron MacKay FRS. 22 April 1967 — 14 April 2016". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 63: 443–465. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2017.0013. ISSN 0080-4606.
  10. ^ a b David J. C. MacKay at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  11. ^ a b c Anon (2016). "Professor Sir David MacKay, physicist – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 17 April 2016.
  12. ^ "David MacKay appointed Regius Professor of Engineering". Cambridge: University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016.
  13. ^ David MacKay (7 July 2012). "David J.C. MacKay FRS". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  14. ^ a b DECC confirms MacKay as new low-carbon advisor, BusinessGreen, 3 September 2009, retrieved 29 December 2011
  15. ^ "Britons of the Year", The Daily Telegraph, London, p. 15, 29 December 2009
  16. ^ "What Will It Take to Save the Earth?" 26 April 2012 by Joel E. Cohen in The New York Review of Books
  17. ^ David MacKay (23 August 2010). "Prof. David J.C. MacKay brief bio sketch". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 September 2016.
  18. ^ Mackay, David J.C. (1992). Bayesian methods for adaptive models (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology. OCLC 222439886.
  19. ^ David MacKay (24 June 2010). "Prof. David J.C. MacKay". web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  20. ^ "David MacKay appointed Regius Professor of Engineering". University of Cambridge. 28 March 2013. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  21. ^ David J. C. MacKay at DBLP Bibliography Server  
  22. ^ David J. C. MacKay author profile page at the ACM Digital Library
  23. ^ David J. C. MacKay publications indexed by Google Scholar  
  24. ^ David J. C. MacKay publications indexed by the Scopus bibliographic database. (subscription required)
  25. ^ MacKay, D. J. C. (1992). "A Practical Bayesian Framework for Backpropagation Networks" (PDF). Neural Computation. 4 (3): 448–472. doi:10.1162/neco.1992.4.3.448.
  26. ^ MacKay, D. J. C. (1992). "Bayesian Interpolation". Neural Computation. 4 (3): 415–447. doi:10.1162/neco.1992.4.3.415.
  27. ^ Ward, D. J.; MacKay, D. J. C. (2002). "Artificial intelligence: Fast hands-free writing by gaze direction". Nature. 418 (6900): 838. arXiv:cs/0204030. Bibcode:2002Natur.418..838W. doi:10.1038/418838a. PMID 12192400.
  28. ^ "Transversal Team". Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  29. ^ MacKay, David J. C. (September 2003). Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521642989.
  30. ^ a b Leo Hickman (30 April 2009). "Power to the People". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  31. ^ "Meltdown". The Economist. 8 April 2009. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  32. ^ Bill Gates (15 January 2010). "Clear Thinking on the Topic of Energy". The Gates Notes. Archived from the original on 5 January 2011. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  33. ^ "YouTube – How Many Light Bulbs? with David MacKay From Cambridge Ideas". Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  34. ^ "Sustainable energy - Without the Hot Air". David MacKay FRS. 29 August 2015. Retrieved 2 July 2017.
  35. ^ David MacKay (March 2012). A reality check on renewables. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  36. ^ DECC appoints new chief scientific advisor
  37. ^ "No. 61450". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 2015. p. N2.
  38. ^ "New Year's Honours 2016 list" (PDF). GOV.UK. 30 December 2015. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  39. ^ David MacKay (7 February 2010). "David MacKay: Some biographical stuff..." web homepage. University of Cambridge. Retrieved 29 March 2010.
  40. ^ Unexpected signs of malignancy, 27 August 2015
  41. ^ What do you tell the children?, 1 September 2015
  42. ^ Appendix Three- Correspondence, Visitors, and Gifts, 12 April 2016
  43. ^ Mark Lynas (18 April 2016). "Sir David MacKay obituary". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016.
  44. ^ Athene Donald (2016). "RIP Sir David MacKay". occamstypewriter.org. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016.
  45. ^ Mark Lynas (2016). "What David MacKay taught me, and taught us all". Archived from the original on 15 April 2016.